THE BEACHES OF FORT MYERS & SANIBEL: Reconnect with nature

Sponsored by Visit Florida

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

FLORIDA IS KNOWN AS THE SUNSHINE STATE for good reason. Sun-filled days, mild nights, and people with happy dispositions make it a favorite destination for families looking for enriching travel experiences. It is a true treasure trove of natural beauty, filled with excursions that feed one’s passion for the sciences and the great outdoors. From biking, hiking, and nature walks to canoeing, fishing, and so many other exploration opportunities, Florida is a great place to discover the beauty of the world around us, and the amazing ecosystems that make Florida a state of scientific marvel.

THE BEACHES OF FORT MYERS & SANIBEL in Southwest Florida is rich in natural beauty and wildlife, just waiting to be discovered. Families will be entertained by many different nature programs, exhibitions, and other special events that allow you to explore and learn about the area’s natural habitat—and its inhabitants. It is an opportunity for families to be together and reconnect through their love of nature and the outdoors.

J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is located on the subtropical barrier island of Sanibel in the Gulf of Mexico. The refuge was established in 1945 as a way to safeguard the wildlife of the island. Today, it is 6,400 acres of mangroves, seagrass beds, and marshes, allowing for great eco-excursions. There are many trails to choose from. The Bailey Tract is ideal for early-morning birdwatching. The 1.1-mile trail takes visitors along freshwater marshes and mangrove islands, and into buttonwoods where there’s a good chance to see osprey hunting. The Indigo Trail is another popular birding site, where at certain parts of the four-mile trail birds like ibises and colorful roseate spoonbills can be seen. Wildlife Drive is also a good way to view a wide variety of waterbirds and shorebirds, as well as alligators, marsh rabbits, and the occasional otter.

If you prefer to have a more guided experience, take an expert-led tram along Wildlife Drive, join a paddling tour with Tarpon Bay Explorers, or stop by the Visitor & Education Center, which has interactive exhibits on refuge ecosystems, migratory flyways, and the National Wildlife Refuge System, and a hands-on area for children. The refuge went so far as to take the usually mundane restroom area and turn it into “learning lavatories.” The bathroom area was named “America’s Best Restroom” in 2018 and features animal sculptures and murals by artists like Andrew Corke, who fashioned a mother and baby manatee out of recycled bike tires from Billy’s Rentals on Sanibel. The lavatory also has fun, nature-related factoids to read while waiting in line.

(left) Children who visit CROW's Education Center have the chance to learn about the world of wildlife rehabilitation. (center) A southern flying squirrel receives care at the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW). (right) Morgan Hester, wildlife rehabilitator, with Animal Ambassador Talon, a red-tailed hawk.

CROW (CLINIC FOR THE REHABILITATION OF WILDLIFE) is another great place to take the family. The Visitor Education Center displays information about CROW’s history and day-to-day operations by using interactive exhibits and video. The center also features live animal exhibits, special children’s areas, and live camera feeds from the hospital intake room and several outdoor rehabilitation enclosures. You can also attend a daily “Wonders of Wildlife” presentation or take a guided “Wildlife Walk” through the hospital, where kids can feel like a “vet for a day” while they don official CROW lab coats.

These great family friendly activities are just the start. There is so much more to explore on The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel. Visit fortmyers-sanibel.com.

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